Williamsburg, Va. (April 5, 2010) — As he approaches his 90th birthday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is said to be considering retirement. However, if he were a state Supreme Court justice, he would not have a decision to make. Most all states have a mandatory retirement age in the 70s.
Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia require judges to retire at ages ranging from 70 to 90, with the average being 72. Vermont is the only state that allows a judge to remain on the bench until age 90. The other 31 states and the District of Columbia mandate judges retire sometime in their 70s.
If the states' rules were in place today for the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Stevens and fellow justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer would be in forced retirement.
Date of birth
Number of states & D.C. where he/she would still be on the bench
John G. Roberts
John Paul Stevens
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Source: U.S. Supreme Court, Biographies of Current Justices of the Supreme Court
The following chart lists the states that currently have a mandatory retirement age for their Supreme Court judges.
Mandatory retirement age for state’s highest court
District of Columbia
Source: State Court Organization, 2004; Gavel to GavelNotes:1 Justice may serve out the term during which he or she turns 75.2 Justice may serve to age 75. He or she may not begin a term beyond age 70.3 Justice may serve out the term during which he or she turns 74, via 2007 constitutional amendment.
In 2009, Kansas increased the age at which their justices must retire from 70 to 75 and South Dakota’s House of Representatives also approved an increase from 70 to 75. This year, several states are considering increasing or doing away with their mandatory age requirements.
The following chart shows the status of pending state legislation related to mandatory judicial retirement age.
Approved by House Judiciary 3/25/2010
Approved by Senate 3/3/2010; approved by House Judiciary Committee 3/25/2010
House Judiciary Committee recommended passage 5/4/2009
Voted “inexpedient to legislate” by House 2/17/2010
ACR 70 & AB 611
Approved by full Senate; died in House committee
HJR 4216 & HB 2489
HJR 4 & HB 37
Approved by full House; killed by Senate 2/26/10
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The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation's state courts.